Life after death, or afterlife, is something that people in history of the world took for granted. With the advancement of science and atheism, this belief has been replaced by the materialistic world view which explains that death is the end.
I’m not a historian, neither am I an anthropologist, but I assume that even today more people in the world believe in some kind of afterlife. Yes, these are mostly people following some kind of religion, and thus their belief in afterlife is just that – a belief.
Being more scientifically inclined, and not being raised in a religious family, I’m not taking the claims brought by them at face value. Instead, I’m searching for more substantial evidence.
So what kinds of evidence are there for the afterlife? Well, there’s mediumship, and various related phenomena like automatic writing, for example. I have no personal experience with this, and reading about seances doesn’t sound convincing enough for me. I do have a relative who had a strongly convincing experience with a medium, but I wasn’t there and don’t know all the details, so this doesn’t count either.
Another well-known claim in favour of afterlife is brought forth by Near-Death Experiences (NDE). I assume most people heard of it. There are some very compelling, or at least interesting NDE accounts. And there are very many of them. Some studies were and are being conducted on this topic. In general, NDEs do appear to suggest some kind of continuation of consciousness after bodily death. But what could be even more compelling?
“Death-Bed Visions” is another contender. I don’t think it’s an established acronym. Don’t know why, it has three letter after all. Probably not that known. Anyway, a new term for this was coined by Raymond Moody, the famous author of “Life after Life” — Shared NDEs. Shared NDEs is when a non-dying person is experiencing the passing away of another one, close to him, physically or emotionally. These are interesting in that they happen not to people who are dying themselves, i.e. their bodies are not malfunctioning. There is a recent article about this, published on CNN, Beyond Goodbye.
Is there some kind of an even more objective evidence for the afterlife? Well, there might just be. And it even has a 3-letter acronym – EVP. EVP stands for Electronic Voice Phenomenon. It’s usually a recording of some words or phrases on analog or digital voice recorders that have no other technical explanations and are usually related to the people who record them. They often even sound close to the (deceased) persons from whom they appear to be coming, both in the sound of voice and in choice of words and phrases. They are also often relevant or otherwise specific. Oh, in rare cases there are even photographic phenomena, although these do not seem to be the focus of most researchers.
EVP, being more technological and objective, looks like one the stronger candidates to me. There are not just stories, there are recordings which you can here.
Next time, I’ll link to some interesting resources on EVP.
What is the best kind of evidence for the existence of afterlife for you?
The below text is posted verbatim from a request for research participant that I received from Andrew Hodrien, Research Assistant at Nottingham Trent University.
Request for research participants
Have you had one or more Out-of-Body Experiences (OBEs) in which it seems as if your sense of self or consciousness has become separated from your physical body? These experiences can occur under a variety of conditions. If you have experienced one or more OBEs we are interested to hear from you about your experience(s). This research is being carried out at Nottingham Trent University (NTU) and is being conducted by me, Andrew Hodrien (Research Assistant – my contact details can be found at the end of this message) and the project is being supervised by Dr David Wilde.
The aim of this research is to develop an OBE ‘screening’ scale which will be able to more precisely identify whether someone has had an OBE. At present no such tool exists for OBEs. Our research is not testing your experience in relation to psychological variables as is commonly done in OBE research, but instead explores the content of the experience itself to better understand it and differentiate it from other experiences.
To do this we would like your help by asking you if you would fill in an online questionnaire anonymously about the individual aspects of one of your OBEs. Your inclusion of this experience is important as it will contribute to the development of the scale. You can access the questionnaire by clicking on the link below.
The questionnaire includes full information on the study to enable you to decide whether or not to participate and offers a general definition of the OBE.
The inclusion criteria for this study (aside from your experience fitting our definition) are:
You have no known organic condition which causes you to be prone to visual hallucinations
You are able to provide informed consent
You are over 18 years old
You are able to provide a short written account of your OBE in English
You are able to recall all of the OBE you wish to tell us about (i.e. not just give a partial account of it)
You won’t need to note these down but please only participate if you can agree with these criteria.
The survey can be completed by clicking the link below:
That being said, none of the articles that I ever wrote come close to the fabulous summary posted on the blog of Jon Lieff, MD. His article, Meditation and the Brain 2013, presents detailed but approachable overview of the latest scientific research into the benefits of meditation, Tai Chi and yoga.
The benefits of these practices span a wide spectrum of human activity, such as physical health, mental health, dealing with pain and creativity.
Today I’m glad to present interview with Annalisa Ventola. I first got to know her through her blog, Public Parapsychology. These days she’s the Executive Director of the Parapsychological Association. This interview was taken over email.
Annalisa, could you please tell our readers about yourself.
I'm also a composer, performer, and music teacher. I have a small, private studio of 20-30 young pianists who see me once a week for tutoring. I also perform original piano/vocal music around Columbus, Ohio and have an EP album in development (http://www.annalisaventola.com/).
Could you describe the Parapsychological Association, how does it differ from other psi research associations (SPR, for example)
The Parapsychological Association is a professional association of scientists and scholars engaged in the study of psi (or 'psychic') experiences, such as telepathy, clairvoyance, psychokinesis, psychic healing, and precognition. The PA is similar to the structure of other kinds of professional academic associations, but unique in the types of members that it attracts and the programs that it offers.
Our professional membership is primarily made up of college and university professors, clinicians, counselors, and independent researchers who engage in psi research. The PA supports their work with publications like the Journal of Parapsychology and the Mindfield Bulletin, research grants, yearly awards and annual conventions. Additionally, the PA publishes a set of ethical standards by which our professional members abide.
What do you do at Parapsychological Association?
I am responsible for implementing the PA Board's plans and policies, managing general operations, recruiting and supervising staff and volunteers, conducting the official correspondence of the PA and communicating with PA membership and the general public.
What about your own research?
Lately my personal research efforts have taken a back seat to the PA's administrative needs, but prior to working for the PA, I was doing field research on haunting and poltergeist experiences. I assisted Devin Terhune and James Houran in a large-scale study that was funded by the Society for Scientific Exploration's Young Investigators Program (http://www.scientificexploration.org/journal/jse_21_1_terhune.pdf). It was a double-blind field study that investigated the physical characteristics of a reputedly haunted residence compared to the thoroughly "unhaunted" residence next door. Positive results from that study had me spending several years pursuing the question of how to evaluate photographic anomalies and work with expert consultants (The Parapsychological Association, Inc. 52nd Annual Convention Abstracts of Presented Papers – page 23).
More recently, I've worked with fellow parapsychologist Bryan Williams on several self-published primers created to assist paranormal enthusiasts in adopting parapsychological methods in their own field investigations. Each of our primers contains a thorough literature review on the topic under study followed by tips on how to put the knowledge from previous research into practice. So far we've covered temperature, magnetism, apparitional experiences, and poltergeist phenomena. The primers can be downloaded at http://www.annalisaventola.com/research/.
Please tell about the PA conferences. Who is the target audience? What interesting events or lectures took place at previous ones?
The annual convention of the Parapsychological Association – now in its 56th year – is where the parapsychological community comes together to present and discuss the latest research developments taking place in universities and private laboratories around the world. The target audience is generally academic, though the event is always open to the public.
At our last PA convention in Durham, North Carolina, two events come to mind as particularly interesting. One was a workshop chaired by Dr. Athena Drewes titled "Understanding and Responding to Child and Adult Psi Experiences". The workshop focused on the recognizing the differences between healthy and unhealthy paranormal experiences and how clinical parapsychologists can assist the mental health system in "de-pathologizing psi".
The other event was the annual J.B. Rhine address, which was given by Prof. Thomas Robisheaux of Duke University in Durham. Prof. Robisheaux is a historian and an engaging storyteller. In his address, he used the story of Psyche and Eros as an allegory for the major turning points in the study parapsychological phenomena. The way he weaved these threads together was quite brilliantly done.
Duke University history professsor Thomas Robisheaux, Ph.D., discusses ‘Looking for Psyche: Historical Reflections on Parapsychology, Psychical Research, and the Anomalous Experience’ at PA’s Annual Convention.
What do you look forward to in the upcoming conference in Viterbo?
Right now what I'm looking forward to most is the accommodations and the food! I've been tracking Ora Domus La Quercia on Facebook and their food pictures make me salivate. I love to eat new foods when I travel and I can't wait to sample their fare.
The PA program Committee is still at work on the program, and until they are done I won't be able to say much more about what is happening at the Viterbo convention. However, Dr. Simon Thorpe has been invited to deliver the J.B. Rhine address this year. He is the research director of the Brain and Cognitive Research Center (CerCo) at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Toulouse, France. He will be speaking on the possible implications of psi for cognitive neuroscience and thinking about the nature of mind and consciousness. This should be a very interesting talk.
What do you wish that people knew about parapsychology?
I wish that more people understood that parapsychology is an academic discipline and that in some parts of the world it is fully integrated in the university system. For example, in the United Kingdom there are 16 universities involved in teaching and/or researching parapsychology or anomalistic psychology. Anomalistic psychology is on the pre-university (A-level) psychology syllabus. And in 2010, the government-funded Higher Education Academy (HEA) organized a meeting for academics teaching parapsychology, which helped to firmly establish parapsychology and anomalistic psychology as legitimate sub-disciplines of psychology within UK academia.
Why does psi research have a hard time to be accepted in the mainstream science, in your opinion?
I would argue that psi research has already been accepted into mainstream science, even if its results remain controversial. The Parapsychological Association has been an affiliated organization of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science since 1969, which gives parapsychologists a forum to present their research findings to the larger scientific community. And as recently as 2011, the AAAS hosted a symposium titled "Quantum Retrocausation: Theory and Experiment" where several PA professional members were invited to speak.
2011 also saw the publication of Daryl Bem's "Feeling the Future: Experimental Evidence for Anomalous Retroactive Influences on Cognition and Affect" in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology – a paper that presented positive evidence for precognition in a high impact journal with a circulation of over 1300 subscribers.
Mindfield: The Bulletin of the Parapsychological Association hosts a regular column by PA Vice President Gerd Hövelmann titled "Articles Relevant to Parapsychology in the Journals of Various Fields." The latest installment of this bibliography has brought the total number of references to 715 articles since its inception in 2009.
These kinds of developments suggest to me that when it comes to mainstream science, parapsychology has already been given a seat at the table. However, science is far from an objective enterprise. Just like any system that attempts to establish truth or knowledge, scientific research is vulnerable to one's self-limiting beliefs, cultural assumptions, and organizational politics, as well as governmental and general socioeconomic concerns. Despite all that, scientists can -and should – at least aspire to objectivity, and many of my colleagues do this exceptionally well.
What do you think about the discussion that took place on TED site regarding the talks of Rupert Sheldrake?
The TED-Sheldrake controversy was heart breaking for me because prior to that I was a huge fan of TED talks. My husband and I recently purchased a smart TV with an app that brought TED talks directly to our television, and when all of that went down, I was positively addicted – watching at least 4-5 TED lectures per day. Since then, mine and TED's "bad breakup" has been a running joke with my friends.
Previous to the controversy, I had been under the impression that TED had a balanced approach to popularizing scientific and scholarly research, not just from the my initial engagement with their Sheldrake and Hancock talks, but after seeing excellent talks by people like Jeffrey Kripal and Cassandra Vieten among others. But there came a point when TED Conferences, LLC attempted to demonstrate that they were in the position to demarcate between science and pseudoscience. Their boilerplate criticisms – which had very little correspondence to the actual content of Sheldrake's talk – suggested to me that they were not up for the task. Fortunately, the incident has only shed more light on the valuable work of parapsychologists and consciousness researchers around the world. This has resulted in even wider support for the work that we do.
Where do you see parapsychology 10 years from now? 50 years?
Information technology is changing quickly and professional organizations like the PA have had to adapt to keep up. More and more, consumers of scientific research are demanding that organizations provide free and open access to their resources online. However, maintaining the quality of those resources requires a staff – editors, managers, proofers, etc.- and those resources are generally require funding. Just about every academic organization is facing this problem right now. Those who can effectively navigate the transition will be leading the organizations that flourish 10 years from now.
I'm encouraged to find students who are organizing their efforts to fill in some of the gaps as information technology expands. Recently we've seen freely available publications like Paranthropology and the Journal of Exceptional Experiences and Psychology emerge – publications founded by PA Student Members – with PA Professional Members occasionally contributing. The youth of the field are shaping new digital technologies and making them available to more established professionals. It may sound cliché to say that the youth are our future, but I see something unusual happening here.
The digital age is also bringing together the Western/Eastern and Northern/Southern hemispheres, and as researchers from different continents continue to network with each other, new terminology and new metaphors for understanding consciousness and explaining psi phenomena will emerge. At this point, parapsychology is very much a Western science – which is rooted in Western ways of thinking and Western concepts of self. But over the years, more and more Asian and South American researchers have been joining our ranks. Just recently, the PA has welcomed its first Arabic-speaking Professional Member. And for the last two years, the PA has been guided by our first South American President.
Fifty years from now, we can look forward to parapsychology developing into a multi-cultural science – less encumbered by limitations of a single worldview and thus more aware of our own assumptions. This blending of worldviews will bolster our aspirations toward objectivity – even if the results of our studies suggest that there may be no such thing.
My sincere gratitude to Annalisa for taking the time to answer my questions. Make sure to take a look at her blog, the PA web site and its conference.
Skeptiko podcast host, Alex Tsakiris had started his public journey into the world of psi research in January 2007. I had the opportunity to interview him about 5 months after he had started.
Six years and about 200 fantastic episodes later, Alex has agreed to a follow-up interview.
Despite starting the podcast without taking a position, just 5 months later you seemed to side with proponents of psi. I've got the feeling that in the following years you've established even firmly in the proponents camp. Is this where "following the data", as you love to say, led you?
Short answer — yes. My biggest surprise was discovering how weak the skeptical arguments against psi were. You hear these skeptical talking points like, "100 years of nothing", "pseudoscience", "lack of experiential controls", and it sounds like there's a raging scientific debate. But when I drilled into it I found very, very little substance to the Skeptical position.
Revisiting our previous interview reminded me that back then you had this initiative called Open Source Science. You wanted to duplicate some psi experiments, starting with the famous "Dogs that know" experiment of Rupert Sheldrake. I know you've done some work on it, but the project seems dead now. Even the web site redirects to Skeptiko.com. What happened to this initiative? Do you plan to conduct any experiments in the future?
I guess this kinda gets back to question 1 in that when I started out I thought there was a real scientific debate. I naively thought that more data would make a difference. Over time I came to understand that for most folks it's not about the data, it's about preserving their worldview.
Also, on a practical level, I found out how hard it is to do decent research. I spent a couple years and several thousand dollars on the "Dogs that Know" experiments. I even teamed up with some researchers at the University of Florida. We definitely observed some dogs that knew when their owners were coming home, but turning that into a viable research project was much harder than I expected.
You also had an idea to do a movie. What happened to that?
The good thing about movies is that you can always say you're still working on it… yea, I'll go with that
The podcast touched on many subjects related to parapsychology, including NDE research, nature of consciousness, ESP research, mediumship, religion, and even UFOs. Today, what do you firmly believe in regarding these topics. What you don't believe is true? Where are you still truly skeptical?
That's what Skeptiko is all about… so you gotta listen to find out
In some of the older episodes you told about your personal experience with medium readings and even an OBE (am I right?). What did these personal experience teach you?
My personal experience with medium readings demonstrated the reality of anomalous communication. As to the source of that communication, the simplest expatiation is survival of consciousness. I never was able to make it out of my body — lucid dreaming is as far as I got
I wonder how all that you've learned in these 6 years affected your personal life, your beliefs about the world, your relationships with friends and family. Can you share any of this?
The shift has been quite dramatic. I've become convinced that the evidence for survival of consciousness is overwhelming. I try to live that reality every day. Of course, "try" is the operative word… not sure my wife and kids think I try hard enough
Are there any people whom you wanted to interview but couldn't?
There are some Skeptics I would love to talk to, but these guys only do science interviews with folks that agree with them. I've found fundamentalist Christians are more open to debate than Skeptics.
You loved to talk about the "paradigm shift" in science, in which the mainstream scientific community will accept the existence of psi and divert more resources into the research and understanding the implications. Do you notice any such shifts in mainstream science in the last years?
Not really. Maybe a little more openness, but that's it. I don't think a system like the one we have that is totally enmeshed in materialism can bootstrap itself out of it.
Related to the previous question, from time to time there'll come out some books or some really interesting cases that reach the mass media, like "Proof of Heaven" book by Dr. Eben Alexander, whom you interviewed twice. the book was a bestseller and the person appeared all over mass media in the US. Yet again, it doesn't seem to move the scientific community interest in this topic. Why is that? What will it take to bring this paradigm shift?
I think most people are quite comfortable with this artificial, and fundamentally bizarre, divide we've created between "science" and "religion".
While the scientific community still remains mainly skeptical, it sometimes feels that there is much more openness on these topics in the general public. Perhaps the recent controversy over the TEDx talks of Rupert Sheldrake and Graham Hancock is a good example. It appears that the public reaction to the banning of these talks, as could be seen on TED's discussion forums on them, was not one-sided. In fact, the number of commenters in favor of these talks was impressive. What does this teach us?
That the wrongheadedness of this biological-robot silliness is self-evident to anyone willing to look with an open mind.
You seem to have succeeded to create quite a vibrant community over the Skeptiko forums. Discussions between proponents and skeptics are usually conducted in a civilized manner. And if not, moderators take care of it, bringing the discussions back on track. Personally, reading fascinating accounts of the personal experiences of different members of the community makes me wonder why some people still have doubts in the validity of psi and extended consciousness. What have you learned from the community?
I learned a lot from this wonderful community that you've been so much a part of creating… thank you by the way
In some ways I feel like a bit of a slow learner I mean, a lot of the stuff I've learned through Skeptiko has been out there, and in many cases known to me, for quite some time. So, why did it take me so long to come around? Maybe I'm more like the skeptics I rail against than I'd like to admit… married to a worldview… unwilling to give up my illusion of control.
I guess the future of Skeptiko will be driven by the misconceptions I'm willing to let go of? I guess we'll find out together.
Any closing words
Thx for doing this interview Jacob. And thx for being such an important part of Skeptiko… from the very beginning.
The course web site includes syllabus, pricing and dates.
It also contains the following description:
This 8 week online introduction to parapsychology will include seven (7) classes by Dr. Nancy Zingrone, and a guest lecture by a prominent parapsychologist. Classes will begin on Monday, April 29th and continue until Monday June 17th. Classes will be broadcast each Monday (except Memorial Day) from 6:30pm – 8pm Eastern Time, but the courses will also be recorded so that you can view them when it is most convenient for you.
In this introductory online course, Dr. Nancy Zingrone will present a series of seven (7) online classes to introduce students to the basics of parapsychology; the scientific study of paranormal experiences. This interesting course will use case studies and experiments to explore extrasensory perception (ESP), psychokinesis (mind over matter), near death and out of body experiences, apparitions (including ghosts), and modern research in parapsychology. Students taking this course will gain a deeper understanding of subjective paranormal experiences and the nature of consciousness, and learn that there are a variety of ways to explore these fascinating experiences.
Julie Beischel, PhD, of the Windbridge Institute conducts a research to examine the potential clinical benefits of personal mediumship readings, especially during bereavement. The project is called the Bereavement And Mediumship (BAM) Study.
You can see the video where she describes the study below. They are also looking for some donations to conduct the study and you can donate by visiting here. The Web site of the project is http://www.afterlifescience.com/.
Update: On April 2, the newspaper wrote a further article where they report on the leading savant researcher, Dr. Darold A. Treffert, expressing interest in the case.
The Khaleej Times newspaper site reports of an intriguing case of a 9-year-old Indian girl, diagnosed with autism and ADHD, who can telepathically read her mother’s mind. And quite well, it appears.
The article has some some background about the girl and her family but to me the more interesting parts were the tests that the newspaper reporters performed with the girl and, following the newspaper’s inquiry, the tests that were performed later by a group of specialists from the Child Guidance Clinic in Sharjah.
The specialist psychiatrist at Sunny Speciality Medical Centre in Sharjah, Dr Jeena Fiji, who headed the team, has certified witnessing “the strength of Nandana to read her mother’s thoughts, desires and intentions.”
The results of all tests showed that the girl could type on a computer or say words, numbers or whole sentences that her mother was thinking, either sitting across her in the same room or even while being in a different room in the house.
Here are some more quotations from the article. The first is from the test arranged by the newspaper:
In our test, Sandhya was first given a note. It read “044050799 – the office number of Khaleej Times.” As soon as she read it in her mind, Sandhya sat with Nandana across a table. The computer was kept in such a way that the keyboard faced the daughter and the monitor faced the mother.
When her mother asked her to start typing, Nandana started keying in the numbers without even constantly looking at her mother. As she typed 044050799, it became evident to us that the child can actually read her mind!
The second test consisted of a whole sentence:
When Nandana successfully completed the first test, we decided to try her telepathic skill. This time the note given to her mother read: “Can I have some warm water please?”
The result came out as a sentence without any space between the words and with some minor spelling mistakes in between. But, it was still as amazing as the first instance.
The tests that were done at a later time by the above experts:
Nandana had come with her mother Sandhya Unnikrishnan. A poem of Grade 2 level was written and given to Sandhya. After her mother had read the poem in her mind, Nandana was asked to type in the laptop provided to her.
Nandana could type the entire poem without any prompt. A six digit number was also written and given to Sandhya, which too, Nandana could type after reading her mother’s mind.
You can read the entire article and see the photographs of the girl in the original article on Khaleej Times: Miracle girl.
You can follow and participate in a discussion on this topic in the Skeptiko forum thread “Psychic girl“.